It is much in their hearts (if they may be permitted), to hold forth a livelie experiment, that a most flourishing civill state may stand and best bee maintained, and that among our English subjects, with a full libertie in religious concernements; and true pietye rightly grounded upon gospell principles, will give the best and greatest security to sovereignetye, and will lay in the hearts of men the strongest obligations to true loyaltye.
– King Charles II Charter
As the 350th anniversary of the King Charles II Charter approaches, the Newport Historical Society is beginning a project called The Spectacle of Toleration. A scholarly conference will be held in October 2013 in Providence and Newport; the call for papers can be accessed here.
The King Charles II Charter of 1663, negotiated by Newport’s own Dr. John Clarke, created a settlement in which toleration of individual differences on religious matters was expressly permitted, even encouraged. There were several reasons for this, but perhaps the most important was that by the mid-17th century, the bloodshed and social chaos produced by more than a century of incessant religious warfare in Europe and Great Britain had led to widespread revulsion and a yearning for stability. But could—did?—the “lively experiment” do more than reduce religious strife and help keep the social fabric intact?
I am happy to find, my Countrymen the Spanish Nation begin to divest themselves from Bigotry, Ignorance, & Indolence, and adopt in their room Learning, Liberty & Liberality of Sentiments on Religious Matters. That System, with proper encouragements to Arts & Sciences, make no doubt, will in time Enable them to arrive at that state of perfection that will class them with all other Civilized and Enlightened Nations & Enrich that impoverished Nation…
– Jacob Rodrigues Rivera, 1783
Does religious tolerance lead to a society that is more productive, creative, and energetic—more intellectually, culturally, and economically rich? And, does tolerance lead to stability, or is it more fragile? What was Rivera’s experience in 18th century Newport? What difference did the “lively experiment” make—and what can the present draw from this experience?
Look for a discussion of these questions and more in a series of public events before and after the 2013 conference.